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Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Attracting More Women and Minorities to Technology Careers: An Intern's Perspective

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    As many of you know by now, I am super passionate about how we are going to double the number of women and ethnic minorities in computer science and informatics across the world. As part of my efforts to take on this achievable but daunting task, I have hired two outstanding women (who are pursuing their PhDs) as my interns this summer: Katie Doran and Meagan Rothschild. This month, Katie will tell you about her research and her experience working with me to grow more women and ethnic minorities in computing. You will hear from Meagan in December when we get closer to completing her research findings. Before we hear from Katie, let me tell you a little about her.

    Microsoft Research intern, Katie DoranKatie Doran is pursuing a PhD in computer science at North Carolina State University with an emphasis on educational technologies and serious gaming. She is particularly interested in exploring how emerging games technologies, such as augmented reality and ubiquitous features, can facilitate novel interactions among players and increase learning potential. Katie is heavily involved in the Broadening Participation in Computing Community and leads multiple science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach programs. I had the opportunity to meet Katie during the poster session at the CRA-W Grad Cohort event that Microsoft Research sponsors. I am excited to have her working with me on evaluating ChronoZoom as an educational tool. ChronoZoom is a web-based, interactive visualization of Big History, the broadest possible view of the past stretching from 13.7 billion years ago to today. Our vision is to enable innovative ways of teaching Big History and its various components, and empowering interdisciplinary studies.

    I’d like to hand this blog over to Katie now to tell you about the exciting projects she’s been working on.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

     

    In addition to my work on ChronoZoom, which has included hands-on sessions with more than 60 students, I have taken the lead on multiple outreach initiatives. Twice, I was able to bring student groups to the Microsoft Redmond campus for hands-on demos of TouchDevelop and IllumiShare, panels with successful women from across Microsoft, and tours of the Microsoft Home. The first group was all middle-school girls from Girls Gather for Computer Science, a summer camp focusing on hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities. Our second group was from the University of Washington’s Math Academy, a program for high-school students from underrepresented groups who are on track to complete the highest level math requirements at their schools before graduation. Both groups of students were phenomenal and left campus with an entirely different perspective on what it would be like to have a career as a computer scientist—especially here at Microsoft. Watching the students’ reactions—as they heard about the breadth of work being done by Microsoft employees here in Building 99, across campus, and around the world—was very encouraging. At the end of both sessions, I went home knowing that each of those students had been exposed to opportunities they never even knew existed.

    My third outreach event of the summer was attending STARS Celebration 2012 in Hampton, Virginia. STARS, which stands for Students and Technology in Academia, Research, and Service, is an National Science Foundation-funded Broadening Participation in Computing project that focuses on professional development for university students in STEM fields as well as outreach with elementary and high-school students to build and reinforce interest in studying STEM topics. This event was particularly fun for me, because I have been an active member of STARS since 2008. At STARS Celebration, I was able to present on my own work—STEM outreach in Haiti, evaluating outreach, and outreach with game design and development—and the significant work being done by Microsoft Research to promote an interest in computer science! I presented two sessions on Microsoft tools for outreach use and both were standing room only. Everyone in attendance was impressed with the number of free tools that Microsoft makes available for outreach activities, such as TouchDevelop, Kodu, Pex for fun, and Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer. As a NASA Fellow, the highlight for me was getting to show off the incredibly adorable Mars Rover additions to Kodu. Based on the response I received, I expect large numbers of game designers and astronauts in about 10 years!

    My research and outreach work with Microsoft Research this summer has led me to the biggest annual event for women in computing—the Grace Hopper Celebration 2012 (GHC) in Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve spent the past few weeks working with Rane to organize Microsoft’s presence at GHC. It’s been a big undertaking because Microsoft has an incredible 165 people registered, including six executives and six senior women! It is inspiring to see Microsoft employees taking such an interest in growing the number of women in computer science. With the energy I put towards this effort, it is thrilling to know that the girls I help inspire can apply to a company that is eager to hire, retain, and support exceptional women after they complete their degrees.

    In addition to being overwhelmed with the amazing presence that Microsoft has here, I’ve been busy supporting Anita’s Quilt, a blog from the Anita Borg Institute that allows remarkable women in technical fields to motivate and empower one another through their stories. I’ve been handing out stickers and sharing the story of Anita’s Quilt since I arrived on Tuesday, but if we haven’t met yet, keep your eyes open for me—I’d love to give you a sticker and fill you in. I could also tell you about the wonderful young women I look forward to meeting at the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award Winners Reception tomorrow. They are an impressive group of brilliant, enthusiastic high-school girls who are going to go on to be the next leaders in computer science. You can find me, my mentor Rane, and a group of other talented, passionate Microsoft women volunteering at the Microsoft booth. Stop by booth #1315 to say hello, get information on internship and career opportunities, and to develop your own Windows Phone application! If you don’t have time to say hello, or you didn’t make it to GHC—you can find out about many of our initiatives at our Women in Computing website. I hope you’re all having as fantastic and inspiring an experience here at Grace Hopper as I am!
     
    —Katie Doran, Intern, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking Honored by White House

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    On Monday, September 24, I got the thrill of a lifetime. I was a guest of the White House at the UN Head of State Reception, where I had the great honor of meeting President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. I was also excited about the exceptional opportunity to discuss efforts against human trafficking—and my passion to grow the number of women in the field of computing—with interested heads of state from 150 countries and leaders of the top advocacy organizations fighting human trafficking in the United States today. The invitation was the result of my participation in efforts to use technology to combat the modern-day scourge of sex trafficking.

    President Barack Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, announced his administration’s latest efforts to combat human trafficking
    President Barack Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, announced his administration’s latest efforts to combat human trafficking

    In previous blog posts, I’ve talked about how danah boyd of Microsoft Research New England, the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, and I are passionate about the possibilities of employing technology to disrupt this heinous crime. It was exciting to see the enthusiastic support for the work we’re doing, which was evident the following day, when the president announced his administration’s latest efforts to combat human trafficking in the United States and abroad.

    I was particularly moved by his saying that human trafficking “…ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.”

    As part of his announcement, the president outlined several initiatives that his administration will undertake in the fight against human trafficking. These actions include providing new tools and training to help law enforcement and other government agencies identify and assist the victims of human trafficking, and increased social services and legal assistance for these victims. The announcement also directed the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons to develop the first-ever federal strategic action plan to strengthen services for trafficking victims.

    For my part, I’ve been active in the efforts of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Women and Girls, serving on two committees and leading a third. As a group, we’ve brought together victims’ advocates, law enforcement leaders, technology companies, and researchers to brainstorm on three key issues: (1) how to share information more effectively with law enforcement; (2) how to harness the power of the Internet to reach victims; and (3) how to best provide victims of child sex trafficking with the help they need.

    I’m cautiously optimistic that we will make real progress in this area over the next few years. We know that it will take a partnership of experts, a foundation of policies, and effective technology to be successful.

    We’re seeing the right partnerships forming under the leadership of the White House. We are working to engage a multi-discipline group of experts to conduct the rigorous research needed to better understand the problem. In addition, with the president’s announcement and the work being done by attorneys general across the United States, policies are being put in place to help support survivors and more effectively prosecute perpetrators. Moreover, we’re making progress in the quest to understand technology’s role in trafficking and to determine what policies should be enacted to ensure that our children are safe online. Together, these developments should enable us to create technologies to deter and, better yet, help prevent human trafficking.

    As you know, I believe taking on social issues like human trafficking will inspire this next generation of girls to want to be computer scientists and help us solve these challenges through technology. I am already seeing young women's eyes light up as I discuss this work in middle schools and summer programs for girls. Although we are just in the early stages of our work, I’m very excited about the research we are supporting and the projects I am working on in this area. This week, I will share some of the work we are doing at Microsoft and Microsoft Research at the 2012 Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking in Lincoln, Nebraska. I'm pleased to be an active participant, speaker, and moderator at this gathering of researchers and organizations doing great work to combat human trafficking. In the coming months, I'll be back to provide more details about our projects and to report on the progress we are making.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Improving Diagnostics for Brain Tumors

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    As computer scientists, we have the privilege of working on challenging problems, the solutions to which can markedly improve lives—and in some cases, even save them. It is just such a challenge that Senior Researcher Antonio Criminisi and his team at Microsoft Research Cambridge have undertaken, as they strive to develop software to help physicians more accurately and rapidly identify the anatomy of aggressive brain tumors, a feat that will enable better-targeted therapy.

    Brain-scan images depicting tumors
    Brain-scan images depicting tumors

    As described in the feature article, “Coming to the Aid of Brain-Tumor Patients,” Antonio and his colleagues are using decision forests, an innovation in machine learning, to speed up and potentially fully automate the now time-consuming process of creating a 3-D image of brain tumors. This work has the potential to drastically reduce the amount of time a highly-trained radiotherapist needs to spend processing medical images, saving time and money in clinical care and, most importantly, getting patients into the most appropriate therapy at the soonest possible moment. Moreover, this technology—which, by the way, enables the Kinect sensor to identify players in Xbox video games—could be applied to many other challenges in medical image analysis.

    To support this broader exploration, Microsoft Research Connections is establishing a medical imaging initiative, designed to compile a large, well-annotated, and sharable collection of medical images for the purpose of comparing and improving the algorithms that analyze them. Scientific advances often rely on such comparisons of different experimental approaches, which enable us to determine which is the most effective. Based on our results, over the coming year, we plan to begin providing the tools needed to accelerate innovation in the field of medical imaging. I will use this blog to provide further details of this initiative as it unfolds throughout the approaching months.

    Simon Mercer, Director of Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research Connections

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